Monday, June 29, 2015

cologne - h0w i did it

disclaimer: this one is for helping others plan a cologne exploration. it may not be an interesting story for normal friends to read. i found many ideas and tips from stuff other travellers have written, so here's my two cents

okay i was doing a fellowship in germany and everyone kept telling me i should explore

but i was somewhat anxious cuz i didnt speak any german, and i needed to do it on a shoestring budget.
but when my boss felt that i should see more germany rather than waste weekends studying in my room, it was the last straw. i mean germans are very easy-going and friendly people but they will never give you personal advice. "you do as you see fit" is their primary rule.

so when your boss says something like "you must hit a different german city each weekend. even if you tour europe later when you got the time and money.. doing it now has its own charm", you cant just sit and do nothing.
With long weekend due on labor day, this was THE chance to explore cologne

why cologne?
very close to lippstadt, Where i lived.
cologne has its own flavor and culture as a city. founded by roman emperor claudius, whose wife agrippina came from cologne, so he promoted this town on rhine river to the status of colony of the roman empire. colony = colonia = Koln = Cologne.

so the eau-de-cologne we use = water of cologne is named after cologne the city and not the other way round. i honestly believed that before knowing the history!

This is what i did:

made a list of places to visit from trip advisor and google maps and planned which spots to cover on what day.

the good news is that most spots are easily accessible on foot. even though rental cycles are available pretty cheap at the hostel (10 euros/24 hours), i preferred walking since its easier to find unknown spots for me on foot than cycle in an unchartered territory. April onwards the daylight lasts well beyond 9pm, so longer days make it uber convenient to explore your brains out.

day one:

I got down from train at cologne HAUPTBANHOFF at about 3 pm. fancy name of hauptbanhoff really means railway station.
Even though i had planned Dom for day two, it was right in front of station, so i couldnt resist taking a stroll. so after spending about an hour looking around the dom i realized i need to finish my day one agenda.. so i walked for about 15-20 minutes to reach the EL-DE house.

EL DE HOUSE is very highly rated attraction to see in cologne BUT its known to be depressing. so my agenda was to get done with depressing-intriguing part on day one and do more of happy stuff towards end. El-De house was the headquarters of the Gestapo, complete with offices, soldiers quarters, prison cells, torture chambers and yard in which the prisoners were executed. the basement of this building is claustrophobic and imparts a deep sense of melancholy, helplessness and desperation. It is painful to read what the prisoners scribbled or clawed into the walls. Often innocent french, polish or ukrainian people were questioned and later executed. the horrors literally send chills down the most emotionless spines and leave you craving for fresh air. Post war initially no one knew its existence and it served as a government office. But prisoners that survived launched a movement to expose the reality of this building and restore it to its previous state, as a reminder of what hell people went through under the reign of Hitler.

on the same road, about 50 metres ahead is the mustard museum where you can taste different kinds of mustard. Cologne being a trade centre it was apparently a centre for mustard trade too. Its a nice break after ravaging torment El-De Haus wrecks upon your mind.

Then i checked my bags in at the Hi-Hostel pathpoint cologne. this place is close to the railway station and most tourist spots, therefore the BEST place to stay. a shared dormitory for four comes at about 35 euros and you get a CHEAP unlimited breakfast, so that you can skip lunch.

being a dormitory there is zero sense of luxury, space or privacy. it WILL feel cramped up and utilitarian but the bed is comfortable, bathroom clean and location unbeatable. the staff are friendly. you can make friends with people from different countries, who might end up being your tour group for the day.

After checking in, I first went to a local bar and grabbed me a Kolsch beer : local freshly brewed beer that is famous for its taste, sold exclusively in Koln / Cologne.

Refreshed by a couple of beers i walked my way to SkulptureGarden cologne. while a walk around this garden barely takes 45 mins, entrance is free and its open well past 7. so its one of the few things you can do after 5 in cologne. Right across Skulpturegarden is Botanical gardens and Cologne Zoo. So you can easily cover everything on foot.
I wasnt interested in Zoo, and too late to fully explore the Botanical Garden. so i skipped both for the day and went instead for rope-way / cable car ride over the river Rheine, called the Rheinselbahn at about 630 pm. There isnt much going for this except it gives you fabulous views of cologne from high above.the cable car terminates close to a luxury spa, accidentally breaching privacy of clothing optional areas of the spa before landing. it terminates close to the rheine-garten along the banks of Rheine.

this garden is massive expanse of lawns along the river rheine with lot of college kids, families and couples lazing about, playing and enjoying the weekend. its lively and colorful, giving a true feel of this cosmopolitan place. Beer and cheer are omnipresent, as are happy and gay people.

the walk along rheine led me to the hohenzolleren bridge, meant for pedestrians and trains to cross the rheine. what makes this more beautiful is the hundreds of colorful lovelocks and the iconic architecture of this bridge with the Dom in the bakground.

After crossing the bridge, I grabbed a burger for dinner at railway station, praised online as a source of cheap but good food in Cologne. I had pretty much exhausted my stamina for a walk. I read that cologne isnt very safe at night, so i went back to the hotel and took a nice hot bath and slept for a solid 8-9 hours.


I woke up early, finished gettin ready by 8ish. I made two new friends at breakfast- one a student from sudan studying phd in italy, the other a I/T grad from china doing masters in France.

With these friends i first went to St Ursula church, which is shrine to the memory of queen Ursula and her 1000 handmaidens. these women were all slaughtered by the barbarians and the church walls are jaded with human bones of these women on the inside, reminiscent of a mausoleum in poor taste. talk about freakin morbid sights to see!

We proceeded to walk to the Old city wall, that was actually the boundary of the actual old city of cologne. NOT a lot to look at, but its fun to see. from here we covered the culture centre, st agnes church, gross st martin, st gereons basilica and finally to the Dom cathedral.

at the Dom cathedral, you can climb about 500 steps to reach the top. it has about 5 euros entry, discounts given to students, so make sure you carry a student id to every museum you visit if you have one.
climbing isnt a very big deal, although steps are rather steep and narrow you will be able to reach the top in about 30 mins. the breeze at the top is amazing, views are great- but for me the best part was the climb. you realize that only when you reach the top.

Right across the Dom is the Romanisch Germanische Museum. This museum houses artefacts from neanderthal man of the stone age to ornaments and articles belonging to romans and ceasars to artistic glasswares of the 16th or 18th centuries. the main artefact here is a historical mosaic which was unearthed accidentally after an air raid. rather than moving the mosaic elsewhere they rebuilt the villa housing it and made it into a museum.

when you explore the museum and realize that all of its massive collection has either been excavated in cologne itself, or belongs to cologne you simply marvel at the incredibly rich heritage of this city.

Even though our legs ached by the time we were done with this museum, may in germany means daylight beyond 9pm. so we egged ourself on to walk some more and explored the city streets, finally reaching the botanical gardens. botanical gardens are worth a visit if you revel in beauty of flowers, or the biodiversity of plants amuses you. in one place you see plants from India, China, The americas, africa and deserts world over, and that too for free. IMPORTANT: Although on internet it says that the garden closes at 6, we were exploring it way past 7.

the zoo was right next to this but we skipped zoo since it was almost closing hours. Then I bid my friends goodbye, and they boarded their trains to respective destinations.

even though I was in cologne for two nights, but Hihostel pathpoint was available for just one night. So i booked Kolnotel for the second night. on map, this place is about 5 kms from the dom, and is rather cheap.. about 50 euros for a night. I assumed i could easily cover this on foot partly to save money and partly cuz i had nothing better to do after checking in. BIG mistake

an entire days tourism on foot + luggage checked out from HiHostel + discharged mobile phone (no google maps) = about two hours of walking for over 6 kms with my 10ish kg backpack.
BUT it was one hell of a walk because i was walking through cologne city on a saturday night. the streets had come alive with the night life. almost all hotels from downtown till kolnotel in suburb were brimming with revellers in varying stages of dipsomania. i kept reminding me a useful tip i read online : stay away from groups of drunk men and/or noisy people, and that somehow meant all people around me. but the feel was nevertheless electrifying. i did take a couple of pitstops at supermarkets which house german brands of beer, each for about a euro per tin. important to buy beer at supermarkets, elsewhere its costlier. and better beer than water cuz both cost almost the same.

I was delighted to see my room at Kolnotel. it was part of a three bedroom flat that shared a kitchen and bathrooms. The hotel manager is a very friendly guy who tries his best to put you at ease and make your stay comfortable. he will provide you all the information you need earnestly, even lent me his mobile charger for the night.

Having thoroughly exhausted my legs to their maximum, I climbed into bed and woke up well past 8 the next day. the shared bathroom had fresh shower gel, shampoo, shaving gel and even hair dryer. it was the perfect low budget hotel. within two minutes walking distance of the hotel is the Koln- ehrenfield station. from here,you take a ticket of 2 euros and the train takes you straight to Hbf (Hauptbanhoff) in under 15 minutes.

I had three more places to cover: Wallraf Richartz museum, Koelsch triangle and museum Ludwig. but i had to make sure i reach back home for dinner and start my monday properly.

wallraf richartz museum took me so long i skipped the other two. and it was absolutely worth it. I had no idea i'd be in for such a feast of paintings. the museum spans from 14th century paintings of biblical stories and characters to 19th century masters and impressionists. i met rubens, van goghs, rembrandts, pissaros and even a fake monet for the very first time.

by the time i finished it was already past 2, so i rushed to the station and boarded my train home.

more tips:

Kolsch and currywurst. you MUST try this in cologne. pretty yummie. i had it at railway station, its pretty good.

you can buy a love lock right at the train station so that you too can put it at the hohenzollern bridge . i had a pretty hard time tryin to find my lock

# Brisk walking is crucial, carry minimum baggage

heavy breakfast - skip lunch - early dinner

start your day by 9 because everything opens at 9 but most things close at 5 or 6

mark important locations on google maps and then save your map to make it available offline

trip advisor has people puttin up three day plan or itinerary. download it in your phone in pdf for reference.

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